McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

March 11, 2014

Letter to the Editor:

“We work the toughest beat in the state”


Submitted report

McALESTER — “We work the  toughest beat in the state”

Editor:

While I believe our state troopers deserve a pay raise and have a difficult job, I would like to speak about another group of state workers, Oklahoma Department of Corrections correctional officers.

We work around the worst of the worst, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We never know if we will be stabbed, spit on, or have feces or liquid substance thrown on us by an offender that might have HIV, hepatitis or any other communicable diseases. These offenders make all kinds of weapons to use, while we don’t have any weapons to defend ourselves, such as guns. All we have is our training.

As far as the dangers go, ask the families of Sgt. Gamble, a correctional officer that was stabbed to death, or Mrs. Carter, a food service worker. Both were killed in the line of duty. Also, the officer from Oklahoma State Penitentiary that was stabbed in the heart when he was doing the normal, everyday work activity of opening a food passageway. Than God, he lived. Or any one of the long list of officers that have been taken hostage throughout the years.

I’ve heard some troopers say they’re the first officers to be called to a riot. I do believe that would be our correctional officers that are actually being called first. I wonder how safe the community would be if we correctional officers were not here to keep the offenders from escaping?

We are working short-handed; our staffing level is about 68 percent. Our officers are sometimes working two and three 16-hour shifts during their five-day work week. I believe that is partially due to our low pay, for all corrections employees. We have not received a pay raise since 2007, while the cost of living keeps rising year after year. I believe there was a study conducted last year and we are 25 percent below market wages.

Every time we lobby for a raise, we are told there is not any money for our raises, yet Gov. Mary Fallin wants to spend nearly $160 million on remodeling the state Capitol! Something seems wrong to me.

I do feel our state troopers need and deserve a raise. But why 22 percent for troopers and zero percent for corrections? Why can’t we do 11 percent for troopers and 11 percent for corrections? Sounds only fair to me

Sgt. Brian Holden

24-year correctional officer

Oklahoma State Penitentiary